Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Hen on Canvas

{Paintings from my Pagan Idols Series}

When I was in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Mongolia. I ate lots of mutton, rode ponies across the steppe, met one of my best friends in life, got a little chubby, and studied traditional Mongolian thangka painting with an Buddhist ex-nun. It was pretty rad.

Thangkas are painted or embroidered depictions of Buddhist deities, and I spent a month and a half painting two of them in a warehouse studio in Ulaanbaatar under the tutelage of my incredible teacher. I'll save the thangkas for another post, but I had to introduce the chicken paintings by way of the thangka tidbit. Let me explain.
I got back from Mongolia with two giant scrolls I made depicting these super-stylized, religious deities. I had a studio thesis to commence and I had lost all interest in my original thesis proposal, but I didn't know how to translate the thangka experience into something fresh and meaningful for a new body of work. My thesis advisor said something that I turn to often even now: PAINT WHAT YOU KNOW. What do I know? Chickens. I know chickens. I love chickens.
My mom collected rare breeds on our farm when I was growing up, and chickens featured prominently in my childhood the way Barbies do in other girls' childhoods; each individual was glamorously different from the next, we dressed them up, and they made for good company at tea parties. Plus, they laid eggs. So, dear reader, I did my senior thesis on chickens.

I joined the American Poultry Association, traveled around Massachusetts taking photographs of rare breeds, interviewed a taxidermist, and began stretching really big canvases. I used the basic tenets of thangka painting- figure floating in space, brilliant color, etc- and applied them to my oversized flamboyant birds. I thought of the paintings as my own personal thangkas; I was creating my own pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses.

Eventually the solid backgrounds got a little repetitious, so I researched early American textiles and began painting ridiculous patterns behind the birds, playing on the association of chickens with domesticity. And, by extension, my growing up in a house of five women, on a farm, where we we raised with Victorian manners but at the same time mucked stalls and drove tractors since we didn't have brothers. I thought of the chickens as emblems of complex American ideals: wildness vs. domesticity, the idea of femininity, the preservation of beauty, the legacy of Audubon, etc.
Anywho, these are my chickens. They are all oil on canvas, and roughly 42 x 54 in. You can see more of them on my website in the gallery called Pollo.


  1. i feel so lucky to own one of these!!!

  2. "Thang-ka" for posting them all together!!! ha ha ha
    I crack myself up. (must be getting late...)

  3. DIMENSIONS! these are beautiful works, and I really love the addition of the patterns in the later ones (they add to the impression of deifying the chickens), but as a fellow artist I always want to know: how big are they? what materials did you use?

  4. Thanks for the *very* flattering comments! The chickens are all oil on canvas, and roughly 42 x 54 inches. Anywhere I can see your work Carolyn? xo!

  5. Stocks, the one with the purple background is TO DIE FOR!! Having so much fun scrolling through all of this, thanks for sharing!! xxxxx

  6. I ADORE these paintings, by the way. I checked out your website after we ran into you guys outside of Mt. Fuji, and then saw that you were a "follower" of Karine's Blog, and so hello! We need to get together soon. Are you going to the Taste of Morongo tomorrow night, or perhaps to Chantale's Bistro Escondido dinner on the 26th?

  7. We are house-sitting for a friend this week who has 30 chickens, so these paintings are very dear to my heart at this moment!

  8. CHICKENS!!! Chickens chickens chickens!!!!


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